More Research Needed to Find Life Insurance Beneficiaries in California

This week California joined six other states-Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey-in signing a settlement with Prudential Insurance Co. of America, the country’s second largest life insurer. The settlement requires that the insurance company use enhanced researched techniques to find the beneficiaries of California life insurance policies where the dead policyholder’s benefits were never claimed. California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said that this is to ensure that when a life insurance holder dies, the intended beneficiaries get the owed benefits. A Prudential spokesperson asserted Prudential was not accused of any wrongdoing and that Prudential is happy to work with industry regulators on best practices and standards and is pleased to get out in front of the industry on this issue.

The agreement includes an expanded use of matching criteria when Prudential uses Social Security’s master list of deceased people (the so-called “Death Master” file) and the use of computer programs to find deaths that might have been overlooked in the past. This will help Prudential discover in a more timely fashion when a policyholder has died and ensure that policies do not go unpaid for years. If a Prudential policyholder dies, the agreement requires the company to conduct a thorough search for beneficiaries, using both their records and online search and locator tools. If no beneficiary can be located, Prudential is to turn over the proceeds from the policy to the state as required under California’s unclaimed property laws. Additionally, the settlement includes a $17 million payout by Prudential, which will be used to monitor compliance. California’s share has not been determined yet, but it is expected to exceed $1 million.

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